Obviously the singer-songwriter wasn’t talking about COVID—he was talking about the internet and social media: “We are interested in the idea of longing and connection and what it does when your sense of empathy is not being created face to face.”
“As we become more isolated, we crave connection more,” Lyle continued. This tension was one of the animating themes of the synthwave band’s 2018 album, KIDS, and it also animates “Dance With Somebody,” which premieres below and will appear on their forthcoming record Monsters.
“The record’s about isolation, loneliness, and the adolescent need for connection—how we don’t really realize that we’ve opened ourselves up too much until we get hurt and then we close off,” Lyle tells American Songwriter. “It’s always that dynamic of being too guarded or being too open and finding the right balance of how we individuate as people. So ‘Dance With Somebody’ is essentially telling the shy kid in the back of the class not to put up too many barriers and to take off your armor. Sometimes it’s Friday night and you just can’t help it, you have to go dancing.”
In “Dance With Somebody”—which follows The Midnight’s latest single, “Deep Blue”—Lyle and producer Tim McEwan deliver a sweeping, synth-driven dance track with a timely message: “Life’s too short to dance by yourself.”
“Tim is evolving the sound a little bit more,” says Lyle of the record as a whole. “There are a few more ‘90s jams, bass lines. We’re opening the palette a little bit more—in some ways becoming a little bit more acoustic and in other ways becoming more dance-focused in different areas.”
We caught up with Lyle by phone a few weeks ago from his basement in Atlanta. He spoke about writing Monsters in the back of tour buses, switching between his folk and synthwave projects, and drawing creative inspiration from Ecco the Dolphin. Listen to “Dance With Somebody” and check out the full interview below.
American Songwriter: Where are you right now? What have the last few months looked like for you?
Tyler Lyle: I am in my basement in Atlanta, Georgia. The last two months have been kind of strange. Obviously we were gearing up to go touring and play some festivals in the summer and that seems to be all gone, so I’ve put my energy into creative work. I’ve redone my studio in the basement. I moved from New York last year, where I had a little closet of a studio—now I have a little bit of space to spread out. I’m recording a solo folk record by myself, and then I’m working with Tim on the next Midnight record.
What is Tim up to? Where is he?
Tim is walking his dog Winston and watching a lot of ‘80s videos. We’re both introverts, so [social distancing] is not super disruptive for either of us. It is a little more [disruptive] for me, because I have a two-year-old, so the childcare thing gets a little more complicated. He’s keeping his head down, taking long walks, and trying to recuperate as much as possible in the current climate.
Tim’s in LA. He’s from Denmark, but we met in LA. I was living in LA for three or four years. Then we were on either coast—I was in New York for five years working with Tim remotely. After I had the kid New York became unlivable. I think that American Songwriter premiered one of my songs way back in the day when I was in LA!
Tell us about “Dance With Somebody” — what’s it about? Is there a story or message behind it?
The record’s about isolation, loneliness, and the adolescent need for connection—how we don’t really realize that we’ve opened ourselves up too much until we get hurt and then we close off. It’s always that dynamic of being too guarded or being too open and finding the right balance of how we individuate as people. So “Dance With Somebody” is essentially telling the shy kid in the back of the class not to put up too many barriers and to take off your armor. Sometimes it’s Friday night and you just can’t help it, you have to go dancing.
When did you write and produce the tracks on Monsters?
It’s been created over the past two years. We were on tour so much of last year that most of our creative work was done in the back of tour buses around the world. It’s been a slower process than we’re used to just because we’ve been touring so much.
How else did the process compare to the making of your previous releases?
As we continue to put records out we know more of what we want to see from the project and what fans want to see from the project. We’re just getting better at being The Midnight. It’s taken us a few albums to really figure out what it is that we’re doing, first of all, then how to replicate it and make it feel fresh and new and interesting for us and for the fans.
What did you want to see from this collection specifically?
I’m the singer-songwriter component of the band, so I wanted to continue the story of KIDS. KIDS is about being a child and seeing those dark clouds of adulthood far off in the distance but they can’t hurt you. With this record we want the dark cloud to be very present and close. The next record that we want to release will be about adulthood and looking back on life retrospectively. So we’re telling a three-part story about what it is to grow up. Lyrically and thematically that’s where I’m coming from.
Tim is evolving the sound a little bit more. There are a few more ‘90s jams, bass lines. We’re opening the palette a little bit more—in some ways becoming a little bit more acoustic and in other ways becoming more dance-focused in different areas.
You mentioned you’re also working on your solo folk project right now. Do you approach songwriting for that outlet differently than you do for The Midnight?
Usually not. A lot of folk songs turn into Midnight songs, and it’s a funny conversation with fans who will say that they prefer one or the other. The truth is, a folk song is a pop song is a country song is a synthwave song. It’s all the bare bones of classic American songwriting styles—it’s just the production you put around it. Everything gets written from that pure creative place of inspiration, wherever that is, and then it’s in the editing process that it gets honed. Obviously the 12-minute-long folk ballad is not going to fit well into the synthwave world. It’s pretty easy once you have the raw material to figure out which lane you want to put it in.
[Tim] said in 2017, of Nocturnal, that “What inspires me is usually movies. The aesthetic I’m going for with this new EP is more older Michael Mann movies like Thief and Heat or James Cameron’s The Terminator from 1984. That kind of nighttime, Los Angeles, cruising around the city, streetlights, neon, maybe a little bit of rain coming down the windscreen. It’ll have more moody, cooler vibe. It’ll be less John Hughes and more Miami Vice at night.” What are some of the inspirations behind Monsters?
Tim’s a couple years older than I am. I remember growing up in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s—the video game systems like Mortal Kombat. America Online is obviously a big component. There’s a magazine out of the Bay Area called BYTE Magazine—a lot of our aesthetic for this record is coming from that. It’s a very early techy world where a lot of the 3D animation, the Trapper Keeper, the early online games—that’s where we’re drawing a lot of inspiration from. And Ecco the Dolphin, inexplicably enough.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about the record or what you and Tim have been working on recently?
It’s been a time of reflection. This record, from the beginning, has always been about that question of connection. The thesis or the premise of this record is “We are all one beating heart.” It’s such a difficult thing to grow up in America, especially filtered through the online perspective because there are so many voices on either side, debating what’s real or what’s true. To individuate you have to learn how to swim between the two poles of being too shut-up and being too open. This is our meditation. We feel like it’s timely. And we feel like the right answer is the one that we came up with, which is that we are indeed all one beating heart. We are all connected. We are all responsible for each other.
Monsters is out July 10.